Dodgy batteries on e-bikes and scooters are the “fastest growing fire risk in the capital,” a top London Fire Brigade official has warned, as he joined calls for more regulation.
Deputy Commissioner of London’s Fire Brigade Dom Ellis said that the force had been called out to 58 e-bike fires and 14 involving e-scooters this year, which “works out at roughly one fire involving these types of vehicles every couple of days.”
“As such, we have identified that fires involving lithium batteries are the fastest growing fire risk in the capital,” he told City A.M.
The comments come amid increasing scrutiny of micro-mobility technologies such as e-bikes and scooters, following calls from MPs and industry this week for additional measures to handle safety concerns surrounding the speed of the vehicles.
Critics are particularly concerned about the availability of unregulated technologies in online marketplaces, which can see users rev-up the speed of vehicles or, as Ellis describes, buy dodgy lithium batteries which are more susceptible to fires.
Watch shocking footage showing the moment an e-bike combusts:
“We are predominantly seeing fires where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they’ve been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards,” he said.
Lithium batteries contain much more energy than normal batteries and are susceptible to failure as a result of damage, extreme temperatures or if incorrect chargers and converted e-bikes are used.
Protecting consumers: Regulation and insurance
London’s Fire service is calling for “better regulation for such products,” said Ellis, to tackle the sale of e-bike conversion kits from online auctions and marketplaces. “We believe that more research and market surveillance is needed to understand this growing issue.”
Earlier in May, media reports showed at least six incidents involve e-bike fires were occurring in the UK per week. London-based incidents in May include serious fires in West Hampstead, Islington and Dalston.
The dangers of the vehicles are also borne out in insurance claims data, which show a rise in claims payouts from major firms.
In 2022, AXA UK covered almost half a million pounds of losses on two large claims caused by lithium-ion battery fires, the company said.
AXA told City A.M. that their claims data showed that the fires occur most frequently in residential buildings, where the associated damage can be devastating.
“One of the large claims was the result of a faulty e-scooter battery which was being charged in the kitchen of a ground floor terrace flat. An explosion occurred and fire spread through the home, reaching two storeys above,” they said.
Dougie Barnett, director of customer risk management at AXA Commercial, said that they expect the “frequency and cost of lithium-ion battery fires will grow, as transport via e-bikes and e-scooters becomes more popular.”
“As an insurer, we want to make sure these risks are managed and reduced so people can avoid the devastating consequences of a fire in their homes or business.”
Martin Milliner, claims director at LV= General Insurance said that although they had seen a small number of claims come through each year, “the cost and frequency is definitely increasing” with 2023 already on track to exceed the number of claims they received in 2022 and the average amount for each claim being over £13,000.
“In cases we have seen, incompatible replacement chargers have been the suspected culprit in a number of claims and the fire brigade who have been on-site have told our customers they are also seeing more and more of these fires.”
Tony Campbell, CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Association (MIA), which represents the sector said that although the MIA have no “overriding concerns regarding battery fires where the batteries are of the right quality and manufacturing standards,” there are sometimes risks involving “cheap batteries, often produced in the far east [that] find their way into the market.”
Risks could also occur when users remove the batteries to charge them at work or at home, which “of course would pose a fire threat if the battery is substandard,” Campbell explained.